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The Value of a Waldorf Education: Highlights from the 2018 Alumni Panel
by Karrin Pearson '00
January 26, 2018
On a wintry Friday evening in January, a diverse group of WSP alumni gathered in Hagen’s Hall to share their own experiences at WSP and the impact this school has had on their lives. The five alumni included current college students, career professionals and a recent graduate in her sophomore year of high school. The evening was full of interesting insights, thoughtful reflections and a good dose of humor! Throughout the evening the panelists continually attributed three distinct capacities to their Waldorf Education: clear communication, a love of learning, and creative problem solving. Let’s take a closer look at each of these!
While they weren’t conscious of learning how to clearly communicate while students at WSP, the panelists described how this tool has served them well since graduation. Jonah Mania ’09, who is studying computer science at Stevens Institute of Technology, spoke about how he is well above the curve compared with his peers. Sydnie Soyka ’04, now a neonatal ICU nurse, spoke about how her ability to make eye contact, give a firm handshake and clearly articulate her opinion has proven helpful with job interviews and within her profession. She finds that her communication skills allow her to ask difficult questions and advocate for her patients in the face of unexpected challenges. Sydnie expressed being frustrated by others who avoid eye contact and described how such a simple skill was nurtured here at WSP with a daily handshake from her class teacher.
Not being afraid of authority figures and being confident to speak with professors and other adults, being able to “bridge the gap,” was a skill the panelists all recognized as being developed at WSP. The importance of listening and knowing when not to speak was also noted. Fergus Binnie ’13, a freshman at Princeton University, explained how his Waldorf education helped quiet his constant talking and allowed him to learn how to listen.
The alumni panelists’ interest in the world and love for learning was a second theme of the evening. Solana Hoffmann-Carter ’07 spoke of a curiosity and drive to learn that continued into adulthood, preparing her to dive into her high school curriculum and tackle what was asked of her. The alumni could meet the expectations of a new school upon graduation because their passion, interest and confidence fueled them through any challenges that arose, whether overcoming lost pop culture references from their peers, or learning how to use an iPad for assignments—turns out it’s easy!
Kathleen McCoy ’16, now a sophomore at the Hun School, recognized how her exposure to so many subjects led to an interest in everything. She spoke of how at Waldorf she was taught to learn about the world as a whole, from every angle, so that now she has many options to pursue in her schooling. And boredom? She can’t fathom how it exists! Fergus gave a touching picture of how he transformed once he transitioned from public school into the WSP fifth grade: “Instead of punching I was hugging, instead of screaming I was singing—bad singing, but singing,” which now has become his guiding light. While he acknowledged that Waldorf won’t work such wonders on everyone, he recognized the power of the education to put children on their path and to find their passion. He finished by describing the Michelangelo quote, “Every block of stone has a statue inside of it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” as the task and role of the Waldorf teacher. He felt that he was put on his path here at WSP and “there’s no science class that can do that!”
Creative problem solving is an ability the panelists all recognized as being cultivated in them at WSP. In the tech world, Jonah has found that many people are simply used to regurgitating information, especially those who have studied it since a young age, and they struggle to know what to do with something outside that framework. When working in an internship with a lot of data, the question of what to do with it and how to interpret it came up a lot. Jonah’s ability to think independently and problem solve creatively made him successful in that position.
Fergus expressed how after his transition to WSP he developed an ability to approach something unknown to him. Previously, he may have had a lot of facts or numbers in his head but he had to rely on that stored information to solve problems. With Waldorf education, he said, “I have the forge, not just the screws,” referring to Waldorf’s approach to building capacities and thinking outside of the box.
The alumni’s creative and artistic abilities in school assignments were also noted in comparison to their peers. While Solana developed a tactile presentation piece for a college course, her peers put together PowerPoint presentations. While Kathleen spent two nights on a detailed drawing for an English class, made with colored pencils on unlined paper, her classmates’ pictures were on lined paper, with simple stick figures. Needless to say, her teacher was blown away!
The evening concluded with several questions from the audience. In their responses the panelists reassured parents not only “Yes, I can read,” but more important that they have great appreciation for stories, and an ability to imagine and envision that surpasses their peers’. When asked if they ever felt like they stuck out as strange for being Waldorf students, Jonah shared that he knits a hat every year, and his ultimate frisbee teammates are eager for him to teach them how to make one, too. And no, these alumni didn’t go tech crazy after entering the “real world,” for they have been living in it the whole time. In fact, they do not feel exposed and shrink up like their peers when their tech gadgets are removed. Rather, they sit ready at the table to discuss, to ask questions and to engage themselves in real conversation and real work in the world, with initiative and purpose.
View our 2018 panelists’ full bios on our Featured Alumni page.